A Defund/Derek Chauvin Challenge
For a long time now, I’ve tried and failed to get essential questions answered by those who believe in police/prison/criminal justice abolition. Personally, I believe in comprehensive criminal justice reform - reform of how cops are hired and trained, reforms of punishment for cops who behave badly including the end of qualified immunity, reform to lighten average sentences, reforms to make prisons more safe and comfortable and rehabilitative, reform to post-imprisonment practices to better integrate former prisoners into society, an end to the Drug War, decriminalization of sex work, and a host of other changes. But this is never enough for a certain class of reader, who sees only abolition of policing and prisons as sufficient to solve our criminal justice problems.
Very often, I find basic logical inconsistencies at play. For example, I’ve interacted with people who both believe that hate speech should be criminalized and also that police should be abolished. This seems flatly unworkable to me; if there are no police, who enforces the prohibition on hate speech? Or you could ask about Brock Turner - some of those who were incensed by his light punishment went on to become prison abolitionists in the ensuing years. Were they wrong to demand greater punishment for him initially, given their later zeal for a purely rehabilitative/therapeutic approach to criminal justice? Why or why not? I’ve sought basic answers to questions like that for three years, and have very rarely received answers. My problem is not that answers to these questions aren’t convincing. It’s that people get angry at the idea that they should be answered at all. And this is part of the ongoing brokenness of progressive debate - people are still so scared of appearing to criticize the excesses and absurdities of the 2020 political turmoil that the essential work of understanding what our shared political values are goes undone.
Conflicts of values and internal inconsistencies are not at all disqualifying within a given political movement; they’re inevitable, in fact, and can lead to growth and introspection. The only problem with such inconsistencies is when they aren’t intellectually confronted, and that’s exactly where we find ourselves on this issue.
So here’s a challenge/contest. If you’re inclined, please submit between 250 and 500 words on the topic of what should be done with Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer, from the standpoint of someone who believes in defunding the police, abolishing prisons, and similar. If we dismantled the criminal justice system under the auspices of that philosophy, what would and should happen to Chauvin, whose shocking crime spawned the very conditions that made defunding the police a salient political issue? You don’t have to actually support those policies to enter, but you do need to do your best to mount a good-faith explanation that takes anti-carceral politics seriously as a plausible future and not just as a symbolic goal. This is not an invitation for satire or parody. Please make your best, brief explanation of what the right approach to dealing with Derek Chauvin should be under a decarcerated system. Email your attempts to email@example.com. The answer I find most convincing will run here, followed by my appraisal of it, and I will Venmo, Paypal, or Zelle the author $500. 250-500 word requirement strictly enforced. Deadline is Tuesday, May 9th. You may choose to keep your identity pseudonymous/anonymous if you win.
This is not a gimmick or trick. The point is not at all to mock. I think this stuff is really important philosophically and pragmatically, I think the proponents of radical abolition have failed to provide answers to elementary questions, and I think the deeply unhealthy discursive conditions on the left right now prevent people from pressing them to defend their worldview. Too many well-intentioned left-leaning people have decided that the potential personal and social costs of appearing to criticize the social justice movement are simply too great to treat that movement with the rigor all serious political ideas deserve. So I’m putting cash on the line. I will read these responses in good faith and with interest. I’m unlikely to change my mind about the big picture, but I am very ready to learn.